Kawhi Leonard-led Los Angeles Clippers now favored to win 2019-2020 NBA title

After much speculation and suspense, Kawhi Leonard—one of the last big-name free agents on the market— decided to team up with Paul George in a Los Angeles uniform.

But it’s not the Los Angeles team that many expected. Instead of joining forces with LeBron James and Anthony Davis to form a behemoth super-team with the Lakers. Leonard chose instead to join the Clippers, the Lakers’ cross-town rivals.

Given Kawhi’s quiet nature, as well as the urged silence by the NBA, his decision was a surprise to many analysts and fans who were convinced that he’d either stay put in Toronto or make the move to the Lakers.

One Single Move, Multiple Shock Waves

With this move, Leonard has single-handedly altered the energy, expectations, and potential prospects for the upcoming NBA season.

A week ago, most sources had the Los Angeles Lakers favored to win next year’s NBA title, with a Kawhi-led Toronto Raptors team marked as a top 3 contender. The Clippers would make the playoffs, but weren’t serious contenders to the throne. 

Since Kawhi’s relocation to the Clippers, though, the NBA power balance has changed significantly. While the Lakers would have been even bigger favorites with Leonard on the roster, their prospects don’t look quite as promising with Kawhi in a Clippers uniform. In fact, as of this week, Oddschecker listed the Clippers over the Lakers and , not surprisingly, the Toronto Raptors. And that’s without even stepping on the court.

Meanwhile, the Raptors’ chances have taken a speedy and expected nosedive, moving them well outside of the top ten. No doubt, Kawhi’s decision to join the Clippers alongside superstar Paul George has sparked this dramatic and swift shift in championship outlook and changed the NBA landscape (again).

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this move is Leonard’s choice not to join LeBron’s Lakers in what would have made another “super-team” atop the NBA ranks. Over the past several years, we’ve grown accustomed to such power moves: LeBron’s move to Cleveland to join Kyrie Irving; Kevin Durant’s 2016 move to join the juggernaut Golden State Warriors; and, most recently, Kyrie Irving’s and Kevin Durant’s decision to team up with the Brooklyn Nets.

Kawhi in Clippers Jersey (image from The Ringer)

Image from The Ringer

A Player Empowered League and New NBA Landscape

The superstar team-up has essentially become the NBA norm where players are empowered to have a hands-on approach to their career trajectory.

With his move, Leonard once again places his huge hands on the wheel to drive where he wants to be and whom he wants to play with. What’s more intriguing is that, even though the Lakers clearly showed interest in Leonard, Kawhi chose to play against LeBron with the Lakers rivals. The context matters. As LeBron enters the final chapters of his career, Kawhi could’ve joined him and helped him rack up a couple more championship rings and a picture-perfect retirement. Instead, Leonard has positioned himself not as a second fiddle to LeBron but as a formidable opponent ready to spoil LeBron’s chances at another ring.

With the deal complete, there seems to be a newfound air of excitement about the NBA match ups next season. Both analysts and fans alike are excited that the expected outcome didn’t come to fruition this time around as it has in similar free agency situations.

Had Leonard joined the Lakers, perhaps we’d be talking today—in a ho-hum, lamenting tone—about how the stellar talent of the Lakers would be unmatched throughout the league and would replace the Warriors as the “team to beat.” But that’s not what happened. Instead, expectations and conjecture were turned on their heads, and a new name has emerged as (potentially) the next powerhouse dynasty in the NBA, ready to give the Lakers—and the rest of the league—all they can handle.

 

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